Living in a rural African village for over a decade has taught me that poverty doesn’t come by accident. There is a reason rural South Africa is poor. Often, it stems from sin.
This does not mean the poor are always at fault. Ultimately, the Lord himself causes poverty (1Sm. 2:7; Dt. 8:17-18; Job 1:21). The poor will always exist on earth (Jn. 12:8). Jesus commended the godly church in Smyrna and they were very poor (Rev. 2:9). Many of those in deep poverty are honest, devout, and hardworking.
But the modern notion that Africa is poor because of colonialism or forced inequality is not true. Consider the following causes for poverty in rural South Africa.
- Tribal Ownership
In many African villages (like my own), the tribe or community owns the land, not individuals. This kind of communal ownership only traps the people into poverty because it gives the residents no incentive to improve the land and businesses no incentive to establish commerce. Others own the land.
“Do not steal” implies personal ownership. Thus, people must be able to own things. This is why graffiti and broken windows are common in public schools but not individual homes.
“Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty” (Pr. 20:13). In my village of rampant unemployment, it is difficult to find workers. Government grants don’t fix poverty because they often encourage indolence. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Pr. 10:4).
Despite decades of massive foreign aid, Africa still blames others for her poverty. It’s time for Africa to take personal responsibility and put an end to bizarre excuses: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets” (Pr. 22:13).
- Disinterest in Books
I’ve never seen a bookstore in a South African village, but I’ve seen bars, saloons, and taverns by the score. Prince Mashele wrote an article called “Blacks don’t read books—full stop.” He says: “A people who do not read books are bound to remain backward, not because they are unlucky, or because they were colonized.”
By Ubuntu I do not mean the genuine care Africans have for one another but the ubiquitous hodgepodge of interwoven homes. A boy lives with his uncle, a girl with her great granny and so forth.
But this often creates a safe asylum for lazy youth, especially young men. They need a father (not an auntie) to stand up and say: “Find a job or you don’t eat.” Paul “did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it” (2 Thess 3:8). He said: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (v. 10).
Ubuntu (and Hillary Clinton) says it takes a village to raise a child. Scripture says it takes a mother and father.
- The Prosperity Gospel
The PG’s solution to poverty is not to imitate the character of Proverbs. That path is too difficult, too self-denying. They instead promise shortcuts: sow a seed, pray for deliverance, expect your miracle. False professions abound for this apparent easy road to success (Ac. 8:18) but the results only brings more misery (1Tim. 6:10).
It is rare that I leave the neighboring village (and during the day, no less!) without seeing a drunkard stumbling down the road. Common is a Bible study interrupted by a local barfly. One of my neighbors stumbles home each weekend, though his family lives in a shack. “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Pr. 23:21).
A member of our church just lost his job because the manager stole the employee’s wages. Zimbabweans say the cause for the utter destitution in their country is fraud and dishonesty. Nearly every day brings a new corruption scandal in the South African newspapers. “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty” (Pr. 22:16).
- Broken Families
“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Pr. 13:22). This is difficult to do with so many teenage pregnancies and absentee dads. Father hunger in the village has more than just emotional ramifications. The economy dies too. “Children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2Co. 12:14). Generation after generation in rural Africa are starting over financially, when they should be building upon the hard work of their fathers.
The promises by socialists (ANC) and communists (EFF) for poverty alleviation are empty. Their words are wind without rain. “Mere talk tends only to poverty” (Pr. 14:23). Be careful of those who want your money to help the poor. Judas voiced interest in poverty alleviation. But…”he said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” (Jn. 12:6).
In fact, there has never been one real-world success story under the communist banner.
Poor villages are often characterized by an over-interest in worthless pursuits like get-rich-quick schemes, gambling, and lotteries. If I see a long line coming out of a grocery store in town, I know I’ve found the Lotto. Gambling among the ladies is huge in the village too. “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Pr. 12:11).
Many of the young men in the village who graduate from high school think they’ll move right to the managerial position at the bank. Dirty, grunt-work jobs are not an option for them. Paul wasn’t embarrassed to work with his hands (1Co. 4:12). But I have had countless job offers turned down in the village, only for that person to return home with nothing to do. While the Tekoites repaired the wall, “the nobles would not stoop to serve” (Neh. 3:5).
Why would a business want to come to the village when even the most menial items are open to theft? Managers have to spend exorbitant money just to keep their products from walking away. Even our little egg business ended because thieves kept coming in the night and stealing the chickens. My neighbor lost his job because he got caught stealing. “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys” (Pr. 18:9).
The sad routine happens daily: girl gets pregnant, boy takes off, girl gets a grant, child is raised in poverty. Villagers should flee sexual immorality. One reason why: “[the immoral person’s] labors go to the house of a foreigner” (Pr. 5:10). How many men can’t get ahead financially because most of their paycheck goes to child support? “A companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth” (Pr. 29:3).
The elderly are forced to depend on the state for care, when the biblical pattern is that they depend on their children (Mk. 7:6-13). Where are the children? Thrown in the wastebasket by the millions.
For these moral reasons and more, rural South Africa is poor. If we love the poor and have compassion for those in Africa, we will tell them the truth. Only this will set them free (Jn. 8:32).